With all the features that the WWE has been doing to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Undertaker’s debut, I was left wondering recently about what might have happened if the company had run with him as the top dog in 1992 instead of trying with Bret Hart. In case you don’t know, Hart was a rising star in the singles ranks and was poised to be the future of the company and instead of waiting a little while they put the belt on him in October of that year. He didn’t draw that great, so the company tried to elevate a number of others to take that spot – Lex Luger, Diesel (aka Kevin Nash), Hart again, then Shawn Michaels. All but Luger got a turn with the title and none of them succeeded.
Meanwhile the Undertaker became a kind of freak show attraction. At WrestleMania XI he was relegated to facing Giant Gonzales, a 7 foot-7 stiff who’d been brought over from WCW. He didn’t perform at WrestleMania X due to being out with a legit back injury. Then at WrestleMania XI he took on washed up veteran King Kong Bundy. Yikes. That’s three years of wasted time battling sideshow freaks and washed up performers that could have been spent as the face of the company instead of guys who ultimately did not draw well. And when he wasn’t stuck with them he was battling the likes of Kamala, Kama Mustafa (who would go on to become the Godfather during the Attitude Era), and the fake Undertaker. Yes he did have a few worthy opponents, namely Mick Foley and Yokozuna, but for the most part he spent 1993 through 1996 working with a parade of jabronis. Imagine if, instead of them, he got to work with Bret and Owen Hart, Shawn Michaels, and Razor Ramon to name a few?
But what about all the great matches we did get between Bret and Shawn, Bret and Owen, Shawn and Razor, etc.? Some of those likely would not have happened or would have been pushed aside to lesser shows. Yeah that sucks for us, but for the company? Might have been a better choice. Bret and Shawn were all-time great performers, but they did not draw. Diesel looked the part of an imposing, dominant champion, but did not draw. Undertaker did manage to stay way over with the fans despite the poor quality of opponents he was forced to deal with. But Vince was looking for a bright, shiny, fan favorite type to have as the face of his company once Hulk Hogan was gone so they made the choice that they did.
I really do think there was a chance that Undertaker could have been a perfect 1990s era, dark version of Hulk Hogan – a Batman or Wolverine to Hogan’s Superman, if you will. Taker staying over all this time speaks to what he could have done if he’d been put in the top dog seat. But we never know. He might have burned himself out and overexposed himself as a character during that time and the great stuff we got out of him from 1998 forward may not have happened. Always fun to speculate, though.